News Ticker

MIND MELD: If The SF/F Community Ran Hollywood…

In our Mind Meld posts, we pose a single question to a slice of the sf/f community and, depending on the question, other folks as well.

This week, we address the the (possibly) misguided efforts of Hollywood to produce quality science fiction.

With most television shows on hiatus due to the writers strike, it’s a good time to reflect on the quality of the genre shows of this past TV season. If you ran Hollywood, what changes would you make? What would stay the same?
Chris Roberson
Chris Roberson’s novels include Here, There & Everywhere, The Voyage of Night Shining White, Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, X-Men: The Return, Set the Seas on Fire, The Dragon’s Nine Sons, and the forthcoming End of the Century, Iron Jaw and Hummingbird, and Three Unbroken. His short stories have appeared in such magazines as Asimov’s, Interzone, Postscripts, and Subterranean, and in anthologies such as Live Without a Net, FutureShocks, and Forbidden Planets. Along with his business partner and spouse Allison Baker, he is the publisher of MonkeyBrain Books, an independent publishing house specializing in genre fiction and nonfiction genre studies, and he is the editor of anthology Adventure Vol. 1. He has been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award three times-once each for writing, publishing, and editing-twice a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and twice for the Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History Short Form (winning in 2004 with his story “O One”). Chris and Allison live in Austin, Texas with their daughter Georgia. Visit him online at www.chrisroberson.net.

The facile answer is to say that there should be fewer crappy shows and more good ones. Just what makes a show “good” or “crappy” is, of course, purely subjective (with the caveat that anyone who disagrees with me about Heroes being crap is just kidding themselves), but I think most viewers can agree about a certain level of objective quality. Or can they?

I think when it comes to genre shows, fans are often like abused girlfriends. “He doesn’t hit me much!” They approach a show that incorporates fantastic or sfnal elements with a certain set of expectations, some of which depend on the show’s quality as a television show–writing, acting, directing, even wardrobe and sets–and some of which involve its use of the “furniture” of genre–originality of concept, execution of ideas, etc. Often, sf/f fans will excuse a considerable amount of failing in the former category if a show does reasonably well in the latter. And if the deplorable quality of writing, or the wooden acting, or the lumpen directing is called out, fans will often respond with “It could be worse” or “At least it isn’t as bad as X,” or they’ll squint and say “Yes, but look at the story arc” or “check out the orbital physics of that starfighter.”


I’m as guilty of this as the next fan, I’ll admit. I excused any number of ills from the Star Wars prequels on first viewing, just because it was Star Wars. “The plot makes no sense,” I’d say, “but hey, Yoda with a lightsaber!” Even now, when I should know better, I still have a tendency to turn a blind eye to things like logic and character and nuance when there’s whizbangery on screen, and it’s only after having a chance to mull it over that I realize that I’ve just been enjoying a gilded turd.

Worse, we stick with crappy shows on the slim hope that they might get better. “Sure, there are gaps in logic you could drive a truck convoy through, and the acting is horrible, and the script is laughably bad, but I’ll give it a few episodes to see if it gets any better.” Why? Why do we suffer through these things? I’ll tell you why, it’s because we’re all abused girlfriends, and they don’t hit us… much.

So what would I do if I ran Hollywood? Probably nothing different, if doing the same thing that they’ve always done keeps making money. Because if I do run Hollywood, all I’m really going to care about is Nielsen ratings and box-office receipts. And so long as the abused fans keep coming back for more hackneyed and poorly executed sf/f shows just because they are sf/f, there’s no reason to do any better.

The question is, what should fans do? Easy. Stop watching the crap. Ask as much of genre television (and movies, for that matter) as you would from anything else. If you’re watching a show that can’t seem to remember that if it’s daytime on one side of the planet it’s not likely to be daytime on the other side, you should probably switch off and go watch a show written by someone who knows how to read. If you turn on a show featuring actors who shouldn’t be performing amateur skits on your local cable access channel, go find something else to watch. Go find something good to watch. And if you can’t find anything good, don’t watch anything at all.

Paul Levinson
Paul Levinson, PhD, is an author, professor, and media commentator. His first novel, The Silk Code, won the Locus Award for best first science fiction novel of 1999. Entertainment Weekly called his current novel, The Plot to Save Socrates, “challenging fun”. His eight nonfiction books have been translated in a dozen languages around the world, and have been reviewed in The New York Times, Wired, and major newspapers and magazines. Levinson appears on The O’Reilly Factor, CNN, MSNBC, and is interviewed every Sunday morning about the media on KNX 1070 all-news radio in Los Angeles. He is Professor and Chair of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC.

The main change I would make is keeping Journeyman on the air. As of this instant, I have seen 12 of the 13 episodes in the series thus far, and the 12th episode in and of itself is a masterpiece, easily one of the best hours of time travel ever on television, on a par with classics such as “City on the Edge of Forever” from Star Trek: The Original Series and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

And yet, at this moment, Journeyman seems likely to be canceled. That a show this superb could be canceled, simply because it did attract a large enough audience in its first 12 outings, highlights what is wrong with television network programming. Despite the kudos NBC deserves for putting Journeyman on the air in the first place, NBC and network television in general needs to get over giving new series minuscule chances if they don’t establish a huge audience in the first few episodes. Otherwise, television will be even less watched than it is today, with viewers increasingly preferring YouTube and the Internet.

The main thing I would keep the same? That would be willing to give a series such as Lost a chance, when it starts to flounder. Lost had a spectacular first year, a weak second year, and a weak first half of the third season. But the finale – the switch from flashback to flashforward – was brilliant. Even though I predicted it in my InfiniteRegress.tv blog, I found it one of the most stunning twists to a story in any medium, television or otherwise.

Lou Anders
A 2007 Hugo Award and Chesley Award nominee and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction imprint Pyr, as well as the anthologies Outside the Box (Wildside Press, 2001), Live Without a Net (Roc, 2003), Projections: Science Fiction in Literature & Film (MonkeyBrain, December 2004), FutureShocks (Roc, January 2006), Fast Forward 1 (Pyr, February 2007), and the forthcoming Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008) and Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008). In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of Bookface.com, and before that he worked as the Los Angeles Liaison for Titan Publishing Group. He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, Dreamwatch, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His articles and stories have been translated into Danish,Greek, German, Italian and French, and have appeared online at SFSite.com, RevolutionSF.com and InfinityPlus.co.uk. Visit him online at www.louanders.com and www.pyrsf.com

I’d make one change. One sweeping, across the board change. Proper respect for writers.

When I lived there, a writer was lucky if he was even allowed on the set of his own film. And there is a reason that Philip K Dick is so popular with Hollywood – he’s dead, and hence, unlikely to get involved with production. (Quick prediction: the same will happen to Harlan Ellison when he’s gone.)

Name ten famous directors off the top of your head. You can do that without blinking. Now name ten famous screenwriters. I worked in Hollywood for 5 years and I can’t do it without including writer-directors and the staff writers I knew on Star Trek.

Everything descends from the writer, everything depends on the writer, everything starts with the writer.

Actors don’t know jack about narrative. They’re all anyone cares about and when they are interviewed, they are only asked about what they wear and who they sleep with. Only James Lipton ever asks them about craft, but even then, their approach to a script is to see it as an opportunity afforded to display a range of emotions, not as a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. And directors? I’ve talked to directors who couldn’t even tell me what they show was about – only that it contained x number of action scenes and y number of fight scenes and z number of clever shots.

Everything starts with the writer. There is nothing wrong with any Hollywood series or movie that good writing doesn’t fix. And every movie that leaves studio execs scratching their heads saying, “What went wrong? We put Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie in it?” could be fixed at the level of script.

But when a script is bought, it’s handed off to a series of spin doctors, then your star actors come in with their own paid writers who each do a draft of their respective client’s part, then the director may have a writer or two in tow, then the studio execs, who paid for the thing or at least convinced someone somewhere to do so and thus think that proves they are masters of narrative put their two cents in, and finally, it’s test marketed to an audience of teenagers and others with nothing better to do, taken randomly from shopping malls in Los Angeles (and thus the dumbest sampling of Americana one can find) and rewritten according to what this Brain Trust doesn’t like. And then the studios scratch their heads and wonder why this toffee twist of a shooting script fell flat at the box office.

If I ran Hollywood, the writers would call the shots.

But, on a smaller scale, if I have to pinpoint just one thing and make it relevant to our SF community here:

Then I’d decree that every science fiction series would have on staff one actual science fiction novelist, not to write individual episodes, but as an engineer of the major arcs of the show. Battlestar Galactica, for example, excels already on the level of the individual episode, on the level of character and drama that TV seems to have suddenly mastered so well. Where it breaks down is on the level of the backstory, the Cylon Plan that never existed, the plotting. As television drama moves more and more to a novelistic model, with individual episodes serving less as stand-alone adventures and more as chapters in an evolving, interconnected story, let’s bring in people who have experience with crafting and plotting these longer, richer narratives. Imagine if Joel Shepherd were on staff at The Bionic Woman, or John Scalzi on Battlestar Galactica, or even Larry Niven on whatever next Star Trek incarnation materializes. Fortunately, there is actually some movement in this direction, with George RR Martin set to be involved with the forthcoming HBO adaptation of his work, and with Jeff Loeb on Heroes, and other things of this nature. So maybe I won’t have to run Hollywood. Maybe it will straighten up and fly right on its own. I hope so, because I’m awful busy as is.

Angela @ SciFiChick
Angela (a.k.a. SciFi Chick) is a SciFi fan, portrait artist, and avid reader of all genres. She has a fulltime desk job for a Fortune 500 company. And occasionally does drawings of buildings and portraits on commission. She reads every chance she gets.

I’m going to have to organize my rant by bullet points:

  • First, I’d have to say enough with the remakes. If you can’t come up with an original idea, you shouldn’t be in the business in the first place.
  • If you’re going to go to the trouble of putting a show on the air, don’t cancel it midseason. I don’t care if the show is only mediocre, everyone want closure. And at least give it the chance of a full season.
  • I think Neilson ratings are passe. A lot of people nowadays tape/dvr shows to watch later. In fact, there are probably only 2 or 3 shows that I watch live. It doesn’t mean I like the show any more or less. It means I prefer to watch my shows at my leisure, commercial-free. They definitely need to come up with a better system of rating shows and viewership.
  • If I ran things, I’d be paying attention to feedback on the internet – what the viewers are actually saying about the show. The fans know best if changes need to be made. If you want to keep those viewers, you had better be listening to what they say.
  • I’d also take some tips from and research the long-lasting genre shows like Stargate: SG-1, X-Files, etc. to discover what made them so successful and what the fans loved most about them. Then, I’d try to incorporate those qualities into new shows that were brought to the table. And try to revamp those that seemed to be dying.

Those are the first things that come to mind. I know I didn’t really hit much on the quality of shows. So much of that can be subjective. Personally, I hate a lot of shows that many others seem to love, so I may not be the best person to talk on that. If all that aired on the “SciFi” Channel was corny scifi (such as Dr. Who and Flash Gordon), I’d be embarrassed to call myself a scifi fan. I’d stick to character-driven scifi and fantasy tv, taking the genres a bit more serious and showing respect to the fans.

John C. Wright
John C. Wright is the author of The Golden Age Trilogy, The War of the Dreaming, Chronicles of Chaos and the upcoming Null-A Continuum, the authorized sequel of A.E. van Vogt’s World of Null-A books. His short fiction has appeared in Year’s Best SF 3, The Night Lands, Best Short Novels 2004, The Year’s Best Science Fiction #21, Breach The Hull, and No Longer Dreams.

There are two answers, the political and the artistic.

Politically, Hollywood needs drastic change if it is not to continue loosing money on films that drastically alienate and provoke its main audience, the backbone of its revenue.

Bollywood, movies from India, are more wholesome, more family-friendly, have better song and dance numbers, and notably more attractive actresses. The weft of the Culture of Death hangs over our Hollywood films, which I do not scent from these overseas films. It has been many a year since I have seen a Hollywood film that does not use “philosophical product placement” to thrust one or another particularly annoying little ad for their materialistic, mildly pinko, morally relative, or anti-American world view in my face. We see such things as would make Cicero or Marcus Aurelius blush with anger, not to mention John Adams and Tom Jefferson.

I am not talking about deliberately politicized films whose anti-American bias is bold and clear, like V for Vendetta or Starship Troopers. I am talking about a universal atmosphere. Even lighthearted kiddie fare like Happy Feet or space opera like Revenge of the Sith or epics like Beowulf cannot be told in a straightforward and honest fashion, a story for the sake of a story, but some little message has to be inserted either mocking religion, or sneering at George Bush, or belittling Christianity. I call it “product placement” because it is the intrusion, never where needed, of one extraneous line or extra quip that allows the film-maker to display his political correctness. And we all know that moral relativism and multiculturalism are good right? Because only a Sith would speak in absolutes.

I should not go into what politically I would change in Hollywood if I were the benevolent dictator, because, alas, my benevolence would not last long: I approve of America, and in time of war I approve of censorship, and in my darker moods I approve of the guillotine, the auto-de-fe, and sacrifices to Cthulhu by hooded and masked High Priests not to be described on bloodstained stepped pyramids towering obscenely over the frozen plateau of Leng… and my mood has been dark indeed of late, provoked by a steady stream of pro-enemy propaganda pieces.

So let us draw a kindly veil over the terrors of the political reign of Wright the First, Hammer of the Paynims. I will say only that I am unimpressed with the patriotism of Hollywood, or even their story-telling ability. They hate the things I love and love the things I hate. I wish they would shut up about politics and religion (which your average sci fi guy has thought more about than your average film mogul anyway — our imaginations not being trapped in the here and now), and stick to art.

Artistically, I am not sure Hollywood needs any big changes to please your friendly neighborhood fanboy.

Ever since the dazzling and unprecedented success of Star Wars back in the late 1970’s, science fiction films and television went from being the very worst of popular entertainment, cheesy monster movies with lackluster special effects and bad acting, to being the best of popular entertainment. I will hold up Babylon Five or the new Battlestar Galactica, as being equal to the best-acted, best-directed, and best-written of any shows, genre or mainstream, that have graced the small screen.

Over on the ink-and-paint side of the aisle, science fictional cartoons used to be Hanna Barbara’s Johnny Quest, Space Ghost and Fantastic Four and little else besides. Bruce Timm has produced seasons, if not years, as particularly high-quality animation, true to its source material, while also producing well-written scripts and eye-pleasing animation: I am thinking of his Batman, Superman and the two Justice League shows. Avatar the Last Airbender merits special mention for its animation, writing, and sheer cleverness of concept.

Every year, the major studios scramble to produce “tentpole” and “blockbuster” films, and, every year, without exception, these are science fiction and fantasy extravaganzas. The top ten highest grossing pictures of the last ten years, with one exception, were all from science fiction, or from comic books, which are, like it or not, the stepchild field of science fiction.

For those of you who are curious, the top ten moneymakers, in order, are: Titanic, Star Wars, Shrek 2, E.T., Star Wars 4, Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Spider-man, Star Wars 6, Lord of the Rings 3, Spider-Man 2.

Still Curious? Want to hear the next ten on the list? Number 11 is Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ; Jurassic Park; Lord of the Rings 2, Finding Nemo, Spider-Man 3, Forest Gump, Lion King, Shrek The Third, Transformers, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings 1. After that is another Star Wars, more Harry Potter, Independence Day, Sixth Sense, Narnia… you get the picture.

So aside from one sinking luxury liner and one crucifixion, everything else in the theater is talking lions, talking fish, trash-talking trolls, superheroes, dinosaurs, spaceships, jedi knights, magic rings, little hobbits, invasions from space, schoolboy wizards, cursed pirate gold, ghost ships, and giant robots from outer space.

I have not even mentioned those science fiction films that never would have been made had Hollywood not been punch-drunk with bigger science fiction blockbusters, personal favorites like The Incredibles, or Dark City, or television shows like Highlander, Roswell and Firefly.

And, I’ve got to say it, even the sinking luxury liner and crucifixion are historical or supernatural or both: they are not stories of the here-and-now, not mundane, but hint at a world bigger and deeper than the fields we know.

What would I change? Nothing. Not a darn thing.

We live in the Golden Age of Science Fiction films. What will change? Aha! That is a different question. Read Remake by Connie Willis for a picture of the future of Hollywood. Sky Captain and Beowulf are the sign of Things To Come: once Hollywood finds out it is cheaper to computer animate the actors, backgrounds, props and sets, except the live-action film to go the way of the Radio Play, the Silent, or Black-and-White film; or maybe they will go the way of the Western and the Musical, not forgotten, but merely not the top draw any longer. Fantasy and Science Fiction will be the order of the day in an all-animated popular entertainment, since it is no harder to draw or render a space-castle or an exploding planet than it is to draw or render a shack or a trash-fire. Films will be wired straight into the home, as soon as some wiz-kid figures out an economic model for it.

Okay, maybe I would order them to put Firefly back on the air.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Jayme Lynn Blaschke’s fiction has appeared in Interzone and assorted anthologies. He’s the former fiction editor of RevolutionSF.com, and is currently the media director for Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. A collected volume of his SF-themed interviews, Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak, is available from the University of Nebraska Press. Blaschke lives in Texas and maintains a blog at http://jlbgibberish.blogspot.com as well as participates in the group blog No Fear of the Future at http://nofearofthefuture.blogspot.com/.

I often find myself wondering why Hollywood has never given me the keyes to the kingdom. I have a lot of ideas about how to fix things there–science fictionally, at least–but it all basically boils down to this: I just wish Hollywood were smarter. That sounds snarky as hell, I know, and if I were calling the shots I’d probably make many of the same damn mistakes I rail against, but sheesh, there are some boneheaded decisions being made by the brass in charge that even a blind salamander could see from a mile away. I mean, giving I Am Legend a happy ending fer crying out loud? That kind of thinking is what gave us an otherwise respectable movie script known as Hardwired gussied up as Asimov’s I, Robot simply because the latter sounded cooler to someone in marketing. And I’m still trying to figure out what Spielberg’s been smoking after the trainwrecks that were his last two SF films. Minority Report and War of the Worlds both started out brilliantly, which infuriated me all the more when they descended into shameless schmaltz and cliche.

Here’s the point where I’d planned to use the bully soapbox to insist that all big studio SF epics be turned over to television folk, since that’s where the truly challenging, innovative work has been done in recent years… but then I actually stopped and thought that through. Straczynski has sadly whiffed on each of his attempts to extend the legacy of Babylon 5 which wrapped a decade ago. Battlestar Galactica, after two great years, spectacularly jumped the shark in season three. Any hope I had for a miracle rabbit-out-of-the-hat finish in season four died a quick-yet-painful death when series headmaster Ron Moore blogged that the reviled non-ending of The Sopranos was brilliant, and that he whished he’d thought of it first. I never, ever bought into the hype of Lost and remain convinced they’re just making it up as they go. Hell, even Joss Wheedon, he-who-can-do-no-wrong, killed Wash for no good reason when he got the chance to take Firefly to the big screen. The bastard.

So then, if smarter isn’t the way to go, were I emperor of Tinsletown, ballsier would be my decree–hopefully the smarts would follow as a matter of course. Instead of looking at any SF offering as a summer tentpole product, a dazzlingly expensive eye-candy fix for the masses, I’d instead redirect the process. Contract with indy filmmakers to produce something not beholden to corporate beancounters and focus groups. Good science fiction, contrary to what one might believe in this post-Star Wars cinematic reality, need not be overly loud, bombastic or expensive to be good. Take John Carpenter’s Dark Star. For all its shortcomings, that film packs more clever ideas into its first 20 minutes than can be found in any 20 films like The Core or Armageddon. Just a quick glance at my bookshelf gives me a good handful of novels that could be turned into fine movies with a total price tag under $50 million each if the production were handled with the thrift indys are legendary for. The first film I’d greenlight is Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, a tour-de-force if ever there was one. The beauty of it–in filmmaker’s terms, that is–is that it is a “ship in a bottle” story. There is only one real setting, the inside of the runaway starship. There are some grandiose exterior special effects, but nothing that can’t be budgeted wisely. As long as the budget isn’t busted by signing Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Morgan Freeman, we’re in good shape. Another one I’d love to see is Patricia Anthony’s sadly out-of-print God’s Fires. The high concept? Aliens crash land in medieval Portugal and get tried by the Inquisition. As a period piece not requiring much in the way of elaborate sets–it takes place in the rural countryside–or elaborate special effects, this is one that could be done on an indy budget now and wow ’em at Sundance with its grim absurdity. Once those two films had struck box office gold, however, I’d unleash the monster–William Hjortsberg’s Gray Matters. Anyone who’s ever read that novel just had the top of their head blow off just now. “It’s impossible to film!” they protest. It would be challenging, no doubt, but as it is the quintessential “brains in jars” novel, what experimental filmmaker worth his or her salt could pass up the opportunity to tackle this Everest of adaptations? The sex, and violence, and sex, and irony, and sex would certainly differentiate it from the likes of Starship Dave… and if I may be so bold, the psychological explorations of sex in the novel translated to the silver screen would be far more relevant and engaging than that in Kubrick’s disappointing Eyes Wide Shut. At the very least, it wouldn’t be as boring. All joking aside, this is all you need to know: Brains in jars. Horny brains in jars. Trust me on this one.

Hmmm… maybe it’s not such a mystery why Hollywood keeps me at arm’s length after all.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

39 Comments on MIND MELD: If The SF/F Community Ran Hollywood…

  1. Jesus… how right wing is John C. Wright? :O

    Most people would see a willingness of mainstream cinema to call into question the core values of the society that produces it to be a sign of a still vibrant culture… one where dissent and the free exchange of ideas is still part of the mainstream of culture.

    But no… apparently that’s the stench of death. It’s far more healthy to have wholesome song-and-dance number with attractive actresses.

  2. If I or anybody else ran Hollywood (what does that actually mean?) then there’d be very little that one could actually change. One man, working in management, cannot change things in a significant way without being thrown out by the stockholders.

    Best you could possibly do is start your own production company, put it in capable management hands, and then find a small group of people who can write and direct to create intense, tightly-plotted hard sci-fi.

    Good hard sci-fi will set the bar high for the entire industry (who wants to go back to cheap bread when they’ve had cake?), will give writers the respect they need (the writer is the most important aspect of making hard sci-fi), and revitalize the whole genre (if your studio makes a ton of money by creating hard sci-fi, everyone else will also want to make a ton of money and will imitate you — it’s basically a gold rush).

  3. 1/2KL from France // January 2, 2008 at 7:29 am //

    I agree totally with Paul Levinson, Journeyman is the greatest show of the year, and it grows up from an episode to another.

  4. Jayme Lynn Blaschke is darned right that Poul Anderson’s TAU ZERO would make a great film. So would Poul Anderson’s HARVEST OF STARS, a personal favorite of mine.

  5. “Bollywood, movies from India, are more wholesome, more family-friendly, have better song and dance numbers, and notably more attractive actresses”

    Hmm. Obviously not seen all those Indian productions over the years concerning the wars between religions, bloody violence on the streets, and the brutality of Empire rule. I’m half-Indian myself; must have been a different Bollywood…

    Still, he’s right about the actresses πŸ˜›

  6. 1 – Kill all the lawyers.

    2 – Kill anyone and everyone who takes/listens to Polls/Focus Groups.

    3 – Stop paying for stories and completely rewriting them!!!!!!!!

    3b- Actually allow the director to make the film without input from studio people.

    4 – No REMAKES

    5 – Stop the straight to DVD crappy sequels.

    6 – Stop listening to tiny, vocal fan groups. (FIREFLY)

  7. I have to agree with John C. Wright in that Hollywood is very successful at doing what it does, and most of the top films are based on fantastic ideas. However, that doesn’t make them science fiction. Are any of the classics of science fiction represented? Well, no. The proposal for using Tau Zero is exactly the point. Just off the top of my head, I would suggest they make Hyperion by Dan Simmons, but even if it was faithfully made, would it zoom to the top of the charts?

    Are there enough real science fiction fans out there to make a big enough audience that would profit Hollywood to make our favorite books into films? Starship Troopers the film wasn’t the same as the book, but it was close enough in Hollywood terms. So why haven’t they made Starman Jones, or Have Space Suit-Will Travel or Time for the Stars, or other Heinlein books written around the time of Starship Troopers that are even better stories? Because Starship Troopers could be turned into an video game like action fest.

    Star Wars was a fluke. I never considered it true SF in the first place. It’s as much SF as a woman is to a transvestite. And I don’t mean to be critical or snarky here, because a drag queen can be very entertaining. Just because it has space ships doesn’t mean it’s science fiction.

    Look at the recent film The Golden Compass. I think Hollywood did an excellent job adapting the book considering the time limits. Yet, the public didn’t take to it. Why? I think it’s a serious science-fantasy and that’s too much for the public to handle.

    Gattaca was a serious SF film, but does anyone remember it? Unless Hollywood turns a story into a comic book cartoon suitable for the masses, it doesn’t make money. But is that Hollywood’s fault, or the audience?

    Jim Harris

  8. For the record, I hold GATTACA as one of the best SF films of the past 20 years. Excellent piece of work. And yet, neither of the cineplexes in the town I was living in at the time ever showed it. sigh

  9. The most important aspect of good hard sci-fi is not just a writer, as Elver said, but an auspicious combination of THE writer and THE money. Jim Harris actually gives two good examples – The Golden Compass failed because it had only the money, Gattaca failed because it had only the writer.

    And yes, J. C. Wright is awfully, blindly, misguidedly rightwing (I wonder, what is it in us that makes even the most intellectually gifted people become rightist or religious?), but unlike Card or Crichton he produces very good literature that I enjoy immensely and he is right when saying that Hollywood, under given cultural and economical circumstances, cannot be more successful.

    There is really no point trying to change Hollywood unless we change the expectations of the viewers and that is a task for visionaries among the directors and particularly the producers who will have to acquiesce to the fact that most REALLY good science fiction movies are generally accepted and loved only after about ten years from the opening night (remember 2001 or Blade Runner).

  10. If you say that he is “blindly, misguidedly” anything, then you don’t know a thing about John C Wright.

    He is many things, but blind and unthinking is not one of them. He has probably put more thought into these subjects that you mention (politics and religion) than any other science-fiction author currently being published. Certainly more than you have.

    You say that you wonder what it is about humans that cause even the most intellectually gift to become “rightist or religious”. As if, somehow, it were a foregone conclusion that any reasonable, intelligent person will be leftist and athiest? What an arrogant assumption you make, that your is the “correct” and that any person who really thinks about it will agree with you. Your conviction in your own correctness has an almost *religious* tone to it, come to think of it.

    In any case, perhaps you ought to indulge in some thinking outside the box yourself, and perhaps come to the realization that: The reason that even the most intelligent and reasonable people in a society become “rightist” or “religious” is because there is actually something worthwhile and valid in holding those views, and because they *are* views than a rational, thinking person can hold without being irrational or unthinking in doing so.

  11. I also agree totally with Paul Levinson, Journeyman is the greatest show of the year, i’m on the edge of my seat every week. Journeyman has to stay on the air!

  12. Pantsman – amusing how you fume about my conviction about the one and only “correct” way and hint at my inability to consider other views, especially in the light of this – “And we all know that moral relativism and multiculturalism are good right?” – J. C. Wright’s sarcastic remark.

    And you didn’t get my opinion about JCW’s thoughtfullness either, maybe you should read my previous comment again, especially the sentence about most intellectually gifted people.

    But you’re right, I’ve missed something in that sentence. To my wonder I’d like to add this – how come that one of the most intellectually and artistically ambitious genre writers denounce morally and culturally ambiguous movies and exalt Bollywood aseptic manufacture?

    And yes, I know that all of this sounds terribly arrogant, but be sympatetic to me – I’m no better than you because I hate universal relativism and compulsory correctness as well. It’s just that I’m doing it from the other side.

  13. Anonymous // January 2, 2008 at 3:35 pm //

    Jayme Lynn Blaschke is also darned right that GATTACA was one of the best SF films of the last few years, if we restrict our comments to hard SF, or, as we hard SF fans like to call it, “Real SF”

    If we include the spectacles and Flash Gordon epigones that grace the silver screen also to be SF, however (what we hard SF fans call “Pulp”) I would add a whole list of SF films that are good and worthy members of the SF pantheon — as pulp.

    The reason why I said in my answer up above that we live in the Golden Age of Science Fiction films is the same reason why we call the Pulp Era the golden age of Science Fiction magazines. In other words, Hollywood has not yet had a figure like John W. Campbell Jr. who would insist on putting real science into the scientifiction. Basically, these are the days of “Thrilling Air Wonder Stories” and “Weird Tales”. GATTACA stands out from that crowd; it was like a something from the Heinlein-Asimov-Arthur C. Clarke days.

  14. Journeyman is just brilliant. They took a tired old idea and made it new by thinking about what being a time traveler would really be like. And then they execute it well.

    One thing I particularly like is that the mystery of the how and why of the time travelling is not pointing toward any resolution. Life is like that sometimes, and it’s not the point of the series anyway.

    It’s what one of the other opiners said: they made it smarter.

  15. This is pure wish power I’m running on, but what I always wanted from Hollywood was a regular miniseries showcase featuring adaptations of great science fiction novels. Give Dune twelve hours or more and have it done right. How about the Forever War or Neuromancer? That would be heavenly.

    If I ran Hollywood the writers would all be making more money. The script is the most important part of a good movie or TV show, and yet so many production companies take a crappy script and throw millions of dollars worth of special effects on top of it in an effort to make it good. The screenplay is not only the least expensive part of a production, it’s also the part that comes first. You don’t have to film anything until the screenplay is good but so many people do.

  16. There seems to be some misconception that being religious and right wing are prerequisites. This isn’t true, although there are some high-profile examples of this in our society right now. I know of pious lefties and at least a few atheistic neo-cons. Using off-the-shelf pigeonholing may be a convenient shorthand way of making a point online (and in real life) but ultimately does little more than demonize the opposition and muddle the issue. Sadly, I do this myself more often than I’d like, but in hopes of keeping an interesting discussion from getting derailed I thought I’d venture forth and make the point.

  17. Many execs fail to realize that action, romance, and special effects are merely frosting on the cake. The average person may like their cake better with frosting, but frosting on its own is sickening.

    Personally, I would assign the marketing personnel to study the great things being done in anime. I would love to see a show like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, or Noein done in live action. They also need to remake the live action Deathnote movies here in the US. Internationally, the movies drew huge crowds and happen to be licensed by Warner Bros,

    Kudos to John C. Wright for expressing the views of a silent majority. I should read his books more often.

    I also respect Lou Anders’ complaints about the mistreatment of writers. Contrast the quality of the average Star Trek novel with the often atrocious writing for Enterprise. It should not have been allowed to happen. As the show was failing I kept wishing they would recruit someone like Peter David to write the scripts.

  18. Chris Roberson offered the soundest advice: Stop watching the crap. Stop acting like an abused girlfriend.

    I stopped watching it long ago, and I’ve never been happier. HEROES? Fark it. LOST? Lose it. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? Faaaaark it!

    Vote with your feet. Stop watching. Or make your own SF videos and post them on YouTube. It can’t be worse than LOST, can it?

  19. Christina // January 3, 2008 at 5:43 am //

    I’m with Paul Levinson. I’d keep Journeyman on the air. Some have compared it with Quantum Leap, but it’s so much more intelligent and mature. I just can’t say enough about it. I love the dang show. A little patience from NBC would likely result in a huge payoff for them.

  20. A.R.Yngve wrote: Chris Roberson offered the soundest advice: Stop watching the crap. Stop acting like an abused girlfriend.

    This would be an excellent plan if entertainment execs had a clue. If we don’t watch, they don’t think “OK, people don’t want to watch crap. Let’s try that again, only better. They will say “OK, there isn’t enough audience for SFF. I’m not going to waste any more resources on that.” Then when someone comes along with the next Journeyman or the dream Tau Zero project, there will be no room at the inn.

  21. “I would love to see a show like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, or Noein done in live action.”

    That would be great. In fact, Bionic Woman could have been a GitS:SAC clone and gone from there. Stay tuned for my Killswitch (by Joel Shepard) review where I’ll touch on this.

    “HEROES? Fark it. LOST? Lose it. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? Faaaaark it!”

    I’m about there with Heroes, but I disagree about LOST. Once the producers knew they had an end date, they tightened up the stories and everything is moving toward the end, no more vamping which ruined the second season. As a result, I found the last half of the third season, especially the finale, to be some of the best TV I’ve seen.

    I’m still watching BG. Why? Because when they do it right (the struggle for survival, the race to stay ahead of the Cylons), it’s still really good. When they move on and try to add the soap elements that they lose it. Hopefully the last season won’t suck.

  22. John Wright is a righty? Gee, what does that make me?

    As for the current crop of TV and Hollywood…let’s link it to another SF Signal posting and bring back STAR MAIDENS!!!!!

    πŸ˜€

  23. “John Wright is a righty? Gee, what does that make me?”

    Fred Kiesche like kitsch, maybe? I mean, any fan of STAR MAIDENS….

  24. Faulty One // January 5, 2008 at 5:39 pm //

    Gotta agree with Paul Levinson, too. Journeyman is one phenomenal show.

  25. Wow — seems there’s a lot of love out there for Journeyman. This was one of those shows that I chose not to watch, here figuring it to be a rehash of Quantum Leap, a misconception solidified by Scott’s review of the pilot. Oh well.

  26. It may well be that Journeyman got better. I had issues with the pilot, but then shows often get better between the pilot and subsequent episodes thanks to tweaking between the making of the pilot, the show getting picked up, and the second episode. The love here kind of makes me wish I had kept with it to see if it got better. Who knows, with the strike and the lack of my regular shows maybe I’ll get a chance to see it.

  27. You know,Journeymay is on Hulu.

    And, I’m guessing, on the NBC site…

  28. “Fred Kiesche like kitsch, maybe? I mean, any fan of STAR MAIDENS….”

    Hey, Star Maidens is (along with “Forbidden Planet”) possibly the closest we’ll get to seeing A.E. van Vogt on the screen!

    πŸ˜›

  29. You’ll know when the sf/f community runs hollywood–There won’t be anymore wrestling on the Scifi Channel. Because as we all know: Wrestling. Now THAT’S scifi. πŸ™‚

    Other than that, I think hollywood has been pretty good at puting scifi/fantasy on the big screen. Where they need help is on TV. Sometimes you have to give a show a chance to build an audience like Sienfeld and Friends, which weren’t popular shows the first few years they were on. For some reason scifi/fantasy is considered disposible on network tv. And since we obviously can’t count on the Scifi channel for much in terms of quality, we have to come out in force to support sf/f when a good show is put on network tv or else we really can’t complain, now can we?

    Dee – GAAK writer dude

  30. Paul is completely right about Journeyman. It is a true mistake not to give such and excellent and well written show time to build an audience.

    The real truth of the matter is that many of the people who would apreciate a show like Journeyman has already given up on most network television. It makes complete sense that it would take time for those looking for “smart” television to find that there was actually such a show on network television.

  31. I pretty much agree with Angela.

  32. I agree, Journeyman is an amazing show. They are idiots not to bring it back.

  33. Thank you John C Wright for airing your views about politics and what you would do if you were a “benevolent” dictator. I realize that some of your comments were intended to be humorous but they were very revealing nonetheless. They have helped me choose which of the thousands of s-f books out there would accompany me should I ever retreat to an otherwise uninhabited island for some r&r. In that situation I would want as many items I bring as possible to serve multiple purposes. Your books would be perfect: After providing entertainment the pages would serve double duty for wiping my derriere.

  34. John C Wright – I take my hat off to you sir! Clearly from the number of heated and polemic responses to your post you have struck at a sensitive chord! πŸ™‚ Well done for tempting out and thus exposing the hysterics on the blogging scene (and their rather frantic scramblings).

    Back to topic though – I’d love to see Hollywood (or anyone for that matter) take a stab at some of the (IMHO) cleverer sf/f…

    Let’s have LESS CGI, and more Tom Baker facial expression! More shadows on walls rather than 10,000,000 pixel super-monsters with trade-marked slime dripping from their carefully 3D modelled jaws (you can actually see each tooth! But who cares!), more great soundtracks (Yoko Kanno for example)…

    Take Gormenghast (and I don’t mean a Blackadderish BBC version of Peake’s masterpiece either) or “Monster Blood Tattoo” for great examples of what I’d love to see. Hugh Cook (The Wizards and the Warriors etc) or almost any of Jack Vance’s novels (perhaps most the Demon Princes series) could also be great if adapted for the screen.

    Or would they? Perhaps I actually prefer my sf/f between two covers and fed to me line by line rather than adapted and acted and forced down my senses in 90 minutes…

    Oh blast. Can’t make up my mind. Maybe making movies for a grumpy public isn’t as easy as I thought… :-S

    PS “Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling” is really great! Read it! But try to get the hardcover edition with the two ribbon markers so you can remember what it feels like to hold a real book in your hands…

  35. It’s pretty funny that most of you on here cut on “Battlestar Galactica” season 3 because some of the episodes were mainly character pieces and didn’t involve any sci-fi elements. That’s what too many sci-fi based shows ignore and why so many people enjoyed “Firefly”. The sci-fi elements were seemless and not pushed in your face. Unlike shows like “Flash Gordon” or even “Stargate” where the characters and stories are hindered by the fact that it was intentionally written/with sci-fi in mind.

    Example: Remove the sci-fi elements of Galactica; Make everything ground/sea based military, change Cylons to …you still have a show. The other shows don’t have another leg to stand on. Hell, even “Firefly” could still work. Not so fast “Flash Gordon”.

    The novel “Starship Troopers” was more of a military and social piece than sci-fi. It had sci-fi elements, that helped support theoretical situations. Heinlein’s own experiences in the military changed his world view and how he thought the world could be better if everyone really counted on each other as a race. The bug’s commmunistic society was the same as what the humans were trying to achieve. The film was non-sense.

    “Dune” is another great example. Every attempt at “Dune” has forgotten about it’s greatest qualities: The Characters. For God sakes, they can’t even kill Duncan Idaho the way he was killed in the novel, which solidified his character, in two films. Master Swordsmen fighting several of the most elite troops in the universe at the same time, giving Paul and Jessica a chance to escape. Well, let’s see, David Lynch killed him with a bullet to the head standing in a hall way and Sci-Fi channel shot him with a MISSLE. The two deaths were taken out of context as Lynch’s Idaho was killed after Paul had been captured and Sci-Fi’s was killed while standing in the middle of a desert.

  36. I’m positively boggled by the thinking behind John C. Wright’s post. It assumes a number of facts not in evidence as well as a shockingly limited view of patriotism. His criticism of Starship Troopers and V for Vendetta is misguided, and the sense of patriotism it displays is repugnant.

    (I’ll blow past the fact that V was aimed at Thatcherite Britain rather than Bushite America, since many of the same criticisms apply. I’m tempted to speak at length to the ambiguity of Starship Troopers’ message, but I’ll spare folks a longer digression.)

    Real patriots exercise the rights that so many have sacrificed for us to enjoy, and that includes the right to critique our country or some aspect of it. Indeed, I was taught from the cradle by my veteran father that speaking out against wrongs is a requirement of patriotism, not a sign of its lack.

    Speaking out against a policy or trait of America does not require or imply any anti-American bias. I love America madly and deeply. The only other countries I can imagine living in are ones whose primary virtues are their commonalities with us. But that doesn’t mean that everything America does is good, right or even coherent.

    Of course, all this presumes leftist leanings. While Hollywood’s left-leaning messages seem a bit more common, there are also propaganda pieces put out for the right-wingers among us, such as the tv show 24. Since I haven’t seen a study on the subject, I can’t definitively state which side gets its message placed into media more often, and Wright can’t logically make that claim, either.

    I think he has a stronger point with Hollywood’s anti-Christian bias, because it often rises above the level of criticism to sheer bashing.

    Golden Compass was a box office failure because enough people had read the books for news to leak out that it’s one long, anti-Christian screed, by the author’s own admission.

    However, I’m unconcerned with Hollywood’s anti-Christian bias, just as I’m unconcerned on the rare occasion that I detect a genuinely anti-American sentiment. Political and religious institutions that cannot withstand scrutiny are weak and unworthy of my membership and support.

    The day I stop loving America is that day that it can’t take a rhetorical punch and respond with either a resounding counterstrike or an honest re-evaluation of its choices. Wright and his ilk work hard to bring that day closer to being by trying to make our country into something it’s not, a monolithic fascist dictatorship in which dissent is equated with treason.

    And, really, there’s nothing an atheist can say to shake a strong believer’s faith. Fear of atheist “conversions” is the sign of a weak faith unsure of its own ability to withstand outside ideas. If your faith is weak enough that an anti-Christian message can shake you, then you’re in desperate need of a re-examination of faith anyway.

    Finally, if he prefers Bollywood movies to Hollywood, I’ve got to question his taste in movies overall — or if he’s ever seen the dreck coming out of Bollywood studios.

    Ehreval

  37. I was optimistic when J.C. Wright wrote “I should not go into what politically I would change in Hollywood if I were the benevolent dictator”, but then he did anyway.

    J.C. sounds like the prototypical adolescent SF/F fan– an unpopular, unappealing boy, who can’t get a girl, who escapes to an imaginary world in which he is absolute ruler, deciding who lives or dies. No wonder he loves George Bush.

    That’s not meant to be an insult to J.C., because I think it really is one type of SF/F fan. I can say that, because I was one once. Except for the part about not getting girls.

    It’s hypocritical of J.C. to complain about films which insert “some little message” critical of Bush or America or Christianity, yet he mentions no discomfort with Passion of the Christ, which blatantly deifies J.C. and attacks Jews. No “little message” there.

    But all the films are and should be protected by this thing called ‘Freedom of Speech’. Better that, than a Hollywood run by J.C., in which anyone who disagrees with him would be led to his guillotine.

  38. I just hate a list of things of SciFi productions.

    1) Series killed, like SG-1.- Things have to be complete, not unending.

    2) Series too short.- The “culture” around them takes a long time to build (in management classes they say that a culture takes five years to build)

    3) Remakes of remakes of remakes….

    4) Inconsistent plots. In some place of this page, somebody quoted a planet with both sides o nsunlight at the same time.

    5) Superstars. The plot has to be on the hands of writers, not on brainless beautyfaced actors(tresses)

    6) scissors. When you take a book into screen (big or small) the book deserves respect. Who is the idiot who decides that a complete scene is cut out of a movie? specially when that scene is crucial to understand the book.

    7) Publicity. Nowadays almost any movie looks like a long commercial.

    8) Ratings. They are simply incorrectly conceived. Measuring (minute by minute) a few households of cultureless viewers. I live in a high class area and nobody has ever heard of a Nielsen device.

    Anyway…. we, consumers, cannot expect quality when the measure is taken in dollars per minute in the next few weeks. Quality builds and it takes years.

  39. I would definitely go with higher quality, and I agree, writers should be given more respect. I mean, love of the craft is all well and good but if actors and directors are going to get all the glory…why not have them shoulder the blame for my not-in-the-mood-right-now writing?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: